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Steve Jobs Was Technology's Change Agent

As the world says goodbye to Steve Jobs, I’d like to share a few stories and photos of my own as I reflect on his death and legacy.

Steve Jobs in front of a slide of himself and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak before revealing the iPad in 2010.

Growing Up With Apple

I’ve long had a love affair with Apple and its products. My parents purchased an Apple II computer for the family back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The computer was a ticket to faraway worlds, and I spent countless hours playing games such as Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, and Pirates. I learned how to type on the Apple II, and my earliest memory of programming was from watching my brother tinker with Midway Campaign, changing the game’s enemies from the Japanese to the Soviets.

My earliest photo with an Apple product. Look how happy I am next to the Apple II computer!

In high school, I got my first Mac, an SE/30, and in college, I had a PowerBook 180. It was at Stanford where I began programming in earnest, with most of my coding exploits centered on the Newton, Apple’s first attempt at handheld computing.

The computer, as Jobs put it, was truly the bicycle for my mind1.

The Newton Protest and Letting Go

The day after his Macworld Boston keynote in 1997, I spotted Jobs leaving Homma’s Brown Rice Sushi restaurant in Palo Alto. Being naturally surprised and tongue-tied, I could only blurt out something to the effect of, “Nice speech yesterday,” to which Jobs enthusiastically replied, “Thank you!” Shortly thereafter I wrote Jobs an email titled “Homma’s Brown Rice Sushi – 9/7/97.” I figured with my clever title, he would remember me and read the email. I asked him about his plans for the Newton, seeing that Apple had recently cancelled the spin-off of Newton, Inc. and rolled the team back into the Apple mothership. To my surprise, Steve wrote a lengthy email back:

Adam,

The Emate has a bright future – and it is for this reason that I am pulling it back into Apple -which has the resouces to market and sell it much more broadly. You can imagine that a small spin-off company would not have such a large sales force or marketing budget. With the appropriate investments in sales and marketing, we hope that the Emate can become a great success.

We are a little more confused about the MessagePad. Since it costs more ($1K or more vs $700-799 for the Emate) and has no keyboard, its market seems more limited than the Emate. However, sales of the current MessagePad are brisk, so who knows… What do you think?

Don’t worry – we are pulling this group back into Apple so that we can invest even more sales and marketing resources into these products, rather than dumping the products into a small spin-off which lacks such resources.

Best,
Steve

Of course, in February, 1998, Apple cancelled Newton. Shortly afterwards, I organized the Newton protest at Apple headquarters in April, 1998. While Steve didn’t personally come down, he did send milk and cookies for the protesters!

I led the Newton Protest at Apple headquarters in 1998. Steve Jobs sent down milk and cookies for us!

If Steve Jobs called death life’s change agent, he was technology’s change agent. Jobs wasn’t afraid to put on the black turtleneck and put to bed many products that people once held dear: Apple II, OpenDoc, the floppy drive, Cube, PowerPC, Mac OS Classic, Final Cut Pro (pre-X version), iPod mini, and the Newton. In order to progress, old technologies had to die while others rose up to take their place.

While I was sure that the future of computing was in mobile, I was blinded by my attachment to a particular device and couldn’t let go. Today, of course, it’s easy to connect the dots. Jobs rightly chose to focus on Mac OS, which serves as the foundation for Apple’s current desktop and mobile products. The Newton product had reached its end-of-line, yet its spirit, its raison d’être, exists today in all of the smartphones and tablets we currently carry.

D Conference and Apple Events

Today, my work at AllThingsD has put me back in contact with Apple. The joint Steve Jobs and Bill Gates session at D5 in 2007 remains the highlight of my D memories.

The Steve Jobs and Bill Gates joint session at D5 remains one of my most cherished memories.

Memorable Apple press events that I’ve gone to and photographed include the introduction of the iMac in 1998, the iPad in 2010, and Jobs’ final on-stage appearance at WWDC 2011. Over the past 14 years, I’ve watched Jobs preside over these tremendous product launches. Unfortunately, I’ve also had a first-hand look at seeing his health worsen over this same time period.

Yet it’s so evidently clear that he lived the words he spoke at Stanford’s Commencement in 2005.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Jobs compels us to see our own reflections and ask ourselves the same question every day. Perhaps this is why Apple shifted over to glossy screens for all of its displays2? Are we clinging to the past or are we moving towards a future where we’re truly becoming who we want to become?

At the Let’s Talk iPhone event the day before he died, Apple’s Phil Schiller stood before a slide of Siri, Apple’s voice-powered intelligent assistant3 for the iPhone 4S. While Siri has it roots from SRI (née Stanford Research Institute), I’d like to think that Siri stands for “Steve is right inside.”

Steve Jobs the person may be gone, but his spirit lives on in the millions of devices and lives he’s touched. Thank you, SJ.

Steve Jobs speaking at the iPhone 4 Antenna Press Conference in July, 2010.


1 The Computer History Museum currently has an exhibit called Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. Anyone who is interested in seeing the “bicycles of the mind” must check it out.

2 I’ve long held an affinity for the matte displays, but it’s time to make the switch with my next monitor or laptop purchase.

3 The Newton had a feature called the Intelligent Assistant. Writing “lunch with Jane tomorrow,” and tapping the Assist button would create a new Dates calendar entry at noon the next day with the first Jane from the Names application.

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4 thoughts on “Steve Jobs Was Technology's Change Agent

  1. Steve Jobs will be missed dearaly. He was way ahead of his time and definitely left behind something we will all remember and benefit from. I have always wanted an Apple computer and could never afford one. I recently purchased an older Mini Mac from 2005 and it works well. I’m still saving up though for my 27″ Desktop! See you in the future Steve!

  2. Gavin Peacock says:

    Hey Adam, I just ran across this. Your letter from Jobs about Newton is really amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. Those were interesting times, and you were one of us.

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